by Jeff Barnard, AP Environmental Writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- The federal judge overseeing efforts to make the Columbia Basin's federal hydroelectric dams safer for salmon is giving the Obama administration one last chance to come up with something better that won't violate the Endangered Species Act.
U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland on Wednesday gave NOAA Fisheries Service until Feb. 19 to decide whether to voluntarily take back their proposed improvements to the Bush administration plan, known as a biological opinion.
The judge said this can fix procedural problems with the Obama administration revisions that prevent him from considering them. But he added that there are deeper flaws, and urged the agency to produce a stronger plan based on the best available science, as the law requires.
"I will not sign an order of voluntary remand that effectively relieves Federal Defendants of their obligation to use the best available science and consider all important aspects of the problem," the judge wrote. "This court will not dictate the scope or substance of Federal Defendants' remand, but Federal Defendants must comply with the ESA in preparing any amended/supplemental biological opinion."
Redden warned NOAA fisheries that he will view with "heightened skepticism" any attempts to deal with the issues superficially.